How Coca-Cola Bottling CIO Manages Mobile Strategy

Start by walking a mile in your worker's shoes -- or driving a mile in his truck, says CIO Onyeka Nchege.
Our romance with mobile devices isn't all that hot anymore. That torrid period when we fell in love with the iPhone and dumped our loyal but frumpy BlackBerry is far in the past. We again take our gadgets for granted.

iPhones and Android devices are now company-issue, and BYOD policies abound. We no longer hoard tablets like rare gems. The conversation has shifted from "I can't live without my new iPhone 3" to "how soon can we add a mobile app for sales pipeline updates?"

But in some ways, this calmer, more rational approach to mobile makes life only worse for CIOs and their IT teams. Mobile is taken for granted, the demand is soaring, and everything's possible, right?

Onyeka Nchege has lived through this whirlwind of demand for mobile tools as CIO of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, the U.S.'s largest independent Coca-Cola bottler. Nchege and I spoke recently about CCBCC's mobile strategy, including how his teams dig for new ideas and how the company vets and prioritizes them. Here are some takeaways.

Evaluate Mobile Needs 'On Their Turf, On Their Time'

Every six months, CCBCC IT leaders are expected to spend a day riding a truck with a driver, and another day accompanying an account manager out meeting with customers such as restaurant and store managers.

[ Everybody needs a mobile strategy. Read Have You Really Started A Mobile Strategy? ]

"We've got to know the business if we're going to impact the business," Nchege says. This isn't a conference room briefing with drivers and reps; it's "on their terms and on their turf," he says.

Back in 2009, it was one of those encounters that led CCBCC to give account reps iPads loaded with their sales materials. Nchege had watched a rep in Mobile, Ala., face the classic salesperson's challenge of trying to get a moment of a busy customer's time. "We've got the world's No. 1 brand, and we're leafing through a binder and the guy is barely listening to us," Nchege recalls.

After CCBCC's IT team launched a quick initiative to put that paper-based information on iPads, sales in that channel saw a single-digit percentage increase, Nchege says. It was a one-time lift due to the iPad's novelty, as customers were curious to try the device. But the tablet remains the sales reps' essential tool. Nchege is exploring whether reps can do all of their work on tablets and not have to use laptops.

Create An Outlet For Gadget-Envy

Nchege, like every CIO, was hearing it all the time: "I saw on the airplane that Joe has this gadget, so why don't I?"

So about five years ago, CCBCC created the Enterprise Mobility Advisory Group (called E-MAG), whose mission is to look at which new mobile devices and apps make sense for the company and which don't. The group includes managers from the company's infrastructure, applications, end user and personal productivity groups, as well as a couple of business partners. It's CCBCC's governance to deal with the consumerization of IT.

For example, CCBCC got enough questions about a buy-your-own-device program that EMAG OK'd a pilot test that let employees go to a big box store and pick out gear they would own and manage. The lesson learned: "Our folks don't want that," Nchege says, adding that most wanted corporate IT backing for purchasing and support.

Let Colleagues Know You're Up To Speed

As long as IT's doing all that vetting of mobile gadgets and apps, let people know about it.

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When Apple came out with new LTE versions of its iPads, CCBCC's IT team published a short report to employees on why the company wasn't upgrading account reps to those devices. You're not Mashable or InformationWeek, so you shouldn't be chronicling the flaws and virtues of every new gadget. But some new technologies get such a torrent of coverage that IT is better off doing a pre-emptive strike, laying out its strategy on them.

Nchege considers these occasional updates a reminder to the company that the IT organization is keeping up to speed on emerging tech, so salespeople don't have to spend the time researching their options. "I don't want our selling team spending half their day researching tablets," he says.

Know You Don't Control Everything

This is one of the biggest points of frustration and dissatisfaction for Nchege when it comes to enterprise mobile strategy. Wireless network performance is out of his control. Employee training isn't always within his control. Consumer-oriented vendors update their devices more often than most IT organizations want. "I would like to have control of that myself, so that when your mobile experience isn't a good one, you know it's me," Nchege says.

Don't Toss Out Past Investments

As CCBCC puts more functionality on tablets, it always looks to leverage what it already owns, or something off the shelf, before it builds an entirely new mobile app. So, as it explores the possibility of replacing some laptops with tablets, it's looking to leverage existing laptop apps. For example, it has invested heavily in ordering software built on C# for laptops, and it's now exploring whether it could run some pieces of that software on a tablet. It has tapped Skookum Digital Works to help with this kind of legacy-to-mobile development work, in order to leverage the significant investment it's already made.

Do you have your own practical tactics for keeping mobile strategy focused? Share them with your peers in the comments below.

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